Before Sunday’s Academy Awards are handed out, we take another look at some of the past events that live on in Oscar history. You know them. You love them. What’s an award ceremony – especially a live, televised award ceremony – without some awkwardness? From acceptance speeches with a decidedly political flavor to naked men running amok – and terrible musical numbers a plenty – we take a look back at some of Oscar’s more uncomfortable – but memorable – moments.
Brando’s No-Show (1973)
In his lifetime, Marlon Brando was no stranger to kookiness, but he made pop culture history when he won the Best Actor award for his unforgettable performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather and instead of accepting in person, sent Native American activist (and aspiring actress) Sacheen Littlefeather (born Maria Cruz) in his stead to protest Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. Clad in full Apache gear, Sacheen took to the stage and said, in part, “I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.” Despite refusing his award, Brando was nominated as Best Actor again the next year for his role in the controversial Last Tango in Paris and continued to act until his passing in 2004.
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The Streaker (1974)
The 1970s gave many dubious crazes – like disco, Pet Rocks and streaking. Running around naked for comic effect was all the rage in 1974 and made it to the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion near the end of that year’s Oscar telecast. Co-host David Niven was in the middle of introducing the legendary Elizabeth Taylor – who was about to announce the Best Picture winner – when a naked man jogged across the stage, flashing a peace sign and a smile – and nothing more. In keeping with his refined English demeanor, the unflappable Niven quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen… But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” The streaker, photographer Robert Opel, was a major figure in the emerging gay rights scene (you can read an interesting article on his life right here) and as time passed, word came out that the whole event had been staged. Whether is was planned or not, it’s still regarded as one of Oscar’s most memorable moments.
Vanessa Redgrave Takes a Stand (1978)
Brando’s protest wasn’t the only time the Oscar ceremony was used to push one’s own political agenda. Outspoken actress Vanessa Redgrave used her Best Supporting Actress win for Julia to praise Hollywood for having “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums…whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” Her speech was met with gasps, boos and condemnations from her fellow presenters. A little background – in 1977, provided funding for and narrated a documentary on the Palestinian people and the activities of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Due to her involvement with the film, members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) protested the Oscar ceremony, even going so far as to burn effigies of the actress.
Rob Lowe’s Snow Job (1989)
Musical numbers are always one of the least anticipated things about the Oscars but this disastrous spectacle really took the cake. The opening number for the last ceremony of the 80s was the brainchild of producer Allan Carr – who brought you such cinematic classics as Grease 2 and Can’t Stop the Music (yes, the Village People movie). The concept is simple – dumb, but simple. Snow White (played by actress Eileen Bowman) returns to Hollywood and hobnobs with some of Hollywood’s legendary stars at the famed nightclub the Coconut Grove. There, she’s serenaded by Merv Griffin and enjoys a parade of some of Hollywood’s Golden Age stars (including Dorothy Lamour, Cyd Charisse and Vincent Price – long before Bill Hader impersonated him on SNL). Snow then meets her blind date – Rob Lowe – a mere month before the infamous videotape of him cavorting with an underage girl in an Atlanta hotel room was released. The two then launch into a bizarre duet of “Proud Mary”, with Oscar-centric lyrics (“Klieg lights keep on burnin’/Cameras keep on turnin’/Rollin’, rollin’/Keep the cameras rollin’!”) Yes, it’s just that bad. It’s so bad, in fact, Disney sued the Academy for copyright infringement (they later withdrew their suit after the Academy formally apologized.)
Rather undeservedly, David Letterman has been widely regarded as the worst host in Oscar history. Critics thought the man who introduced the world to “Stupid Pet Tricks” didn’t show the respect to the proceedings they thought they deserved. Dave’s most memorable moment on stage occurred when he had some fun at the expense of the “Queen of All Media” and Quentin Tarantino‘s favorite muse. It was a quick bit, Dave introduced Uma Thurman to Oprah Winfrey thusly, “Uma…Oprah! Oprah…Uma!” and then added “Have you kids met Keanu (Reeves)?” The rest of Dave’s quips and jokes have since been forgotten but, to his credit, Dave’s hosting gig was the highest rated telecast since the 1983 Oscars and he recently revealed he’s been since asked to host the ceremony again.
Angelina Keeps it in the Family (2000)
Before she became half of Brangelina, Angelina Jolie made waves on the red carpet in 2000, when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a sociopath in Girl, Interrupted. Apparently modeling a dress from the Morticia Addams collection, Angelina shared what looked like a passionate kiss with her brother, actor James Haven. Adding fuel to tabloid speculation of the nature of their relationship, Angelina declared, “I’m so in love with my brother right now” during her acceptance speech. Angie and James later explained that after their parents’ divorce they were each others’ sole emotional support and told People magazine that they were just “the best of friends.” Angie added, “it wasn’t some odd open-mouthed kiss. It was disappointing that something so beautiful and pure could be turned into a circus.”
Adrien Brody’s Oscar Surprise for Halle Berry (2003)
Another kiss that went down in Academy Award history occurred in 2003. An underdog for Best Actor – up against such heavyweights as Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day Lewis and Michael Caine – Adrien Brody got the surprise win for his role in Roman Polanski‘s The Pianist. When Adrien went up to accept his award, he first put an intense lip-lock on presenter Halle Berry (could you blame him?), who looked absolutely stunned. After the spontaneous smooch, Adrian jokingly told Halle, “I bet they didn’t tell you that was in the gift bag!”
A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity (2008)
Beating out not one but three songs from the year’s musical favorite Enchanted, Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard were the unexpected winners of the Best Song Oscar for the lovely “Falling Slowly” from the indie hit Once. When they went up to accept their award, Glen got to express his gratitude, but when Markéta went up to the microphone, she was greeted by the “get off the stage” music and was quickly ushered off the stage without saying a word. Host Jon Stewart, demonstrating a great deal of class, came back from commercial break and brought Markéta back out to give her speech and told her to “enjoy your moment”. She did, and we’re glad she did, because she spoke these inspirational words, “the fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.”
Hugh Jackman’s Opening Number (2009)
Don’t get me wrong, I thought Hugh Jackman was a great Oscar host, it’s just a few choices made during the opening musical number were slightly cringe-worthy! Hugh told the audience before launching into the number which celebrated the Best Picture nominees, “Due to cutbacks, the Academy said they didn’t have enough money for an opening number. I’m going to do one anyway.” Amidst what looked like sets grabbed directly from the local grade school, Hugh delivered a musical tribute to the nominees – and it’s when he got to Slumdog Millionaire that things got a little icky. He’s singing a song about poop to the lovely Kate Winslet! And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he then gave her a playful jab about her film The Reader. Surrounded by dancers (inexplicably clad in tight shiny bodysuits) and to a techno beat, Hugh sang, “I haven’t seen The Reader”. Ouch. Well, one good thing did come out of this number – Anne Hathaway‘s performance as Nixon during the Frost/Nixon segment could have been the reason she was tapped to host this year’s ceremony!
Lady Kayne (2010)
You hardly expect to find controversy in the Best Documentary Short category, but Elinor Burkett brought it. When it was announced that Music by Prudence won the prize, producer Roger Ross Williams took to the stage to accept the award. He was only a few sentences in when Hurricane Elinor exploded onto the stage, grabbed the mike, said, “Isn’t that just like a man to not let a woman talk?” and then babbled until the orchestra gave her the musical cue to wrap it up, depriving Roger his time to shine. The next night on Larry King Live, Williams explained that Elinor had been a producer on the short film, but that the two of them had “creative disputes” (and Larry gave him the chance to deliver his speech, which actually ended up being more awkward than the actual incident.)
Who will provide this year’s awkward moments? Find out Sunday night at 8pm when Anne Hathaway and James Franco host the Oscars on ABC!